The University of Warwick held its first black mental health week last week. It was a four-day event pioneered by third-year psychology student Teju Soyinka to raise awareness of mental health issues within the black community.
The aim of the week was to specifically focus on the struggle that so many people of colour face when addressing mental health issues within the context of the Afro-Caribbean community.
The first day included an informative general introduction into mental health, which was designed to quell common misconceptions. Discussions then went on to consider stigmas and the effect of religion and culture.
Many members of the audience highlighted the adverse effect of their cultural and religious background on their ability to access the appropriate form of mental health information, advice and help.
Some highlighted how mental health issues can be seen as “the devil”, some kind of “test” for them or even a punishment for something they had done wrong.
Other students shared their experiences of mental health issues not being taken seriously. The dichotomy between the severity of the perception of physical illness and that of mental illness was apparent throughout the discussions.
The subsequent day focused on specific mental health issues. The main issues discussed included depression, suicide, schizophrenia, anxiety and bipolar Disorder. These sessions focused on the question ‘how bad does it have to get before you seek help?’
From the discussion there was no definitive answer however, it was decided that it is best to consult help. The discussion gave the advice to students that if they were experiencing any problems that are affecting their mental health then talk to somebody about it.
This session was then followed by testimonies from individuals who have dealt or are currently dealing with Mental Health Issues.
Another session focused on the impact of mental health on specific genders, with specific talks aimed at those identifying as male or female. The talks explored how the combination of racism and sexism can impact mental health as black men and women.
In the women’s group discussion, led by the Black Women’s Project, the perception of the “strong black woman” was tackled. The session also explored the effect of daily life stressors and reactions to these.
The week ended by looking at the link between black icons, music and mental health. The session, led by Warwick Hip Hop society, focused on mental health in the entertainment industry. This was then followed by spoken word and poetry performances.
Some students commented that this was particularly poignant as mental health is often just seen as an abstract concept when in reality it can affect anyone at any time.
Iyanu Illupeju, a second-year Law undergraduate, attended the event, which she thought was “really well done.”
She said that she was particularly impressed by the way the organisers and presenters guided the conversations to allow discussions but also allow participants to become more informed.
She also commented that the event was “ground-breaking” as it opened discussions on issues that people do not really speak about.
Alongside Teju, the event was organised by Rodney Gold D, Deborah Shorinde, Rochelle Smith, Jessica Agboola, Tyrique King & Savannah Harriot.
This event has come at a time when society is becoming more aware of the lack of focus on mental health. These concerns are also being explored on campus as increasingly the University and SU are focusing campaigns on mental wellbeing.
Last year, campaigns led by SU welfare officer Luke Pilot and president Isaac Leigh aimed to prioritise mental health at the SU.